Breaking Bread on Erev Shabbat

I have often wished I could make bread well enough to make Challah. Challah is the bread we break on Shabbat before Kiddish, the meal we celebrate ever Shabbat after services. A full service is 3 hours long and Jews like to socialize; so it is we like to have refreshments afterwards. As a matter of fact, I have to confess that many Jews observe Jewish Standard Time (i.e. come late), but I like to go on time because I love the feelings of the service and see no need to short change myself by only being there for when the Torah is being taken out of the Arc. Of course, I have my own way of being lazy: I rarely read the scriptures when they are being read. I simply listen to the Hebrew, which I speak very little of. Nonetheless, I do my best. I always feel there is something added to the service by having it in Hebrew. Hebrew–from what little I understand of it–is such a beautiful and poetic language. Yet I have only learned a few words and grammatical structures of it.

Anyway, the bread. Though it is not really for Shabbat, I made a loaf today. It is for Mom and me to share, and possibly anyone else who comes visiting. I would love it if I could get my friend Vlad to come over. The ingredients were:

4 cups All-Purpose Flour

3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour

2 teaspoons Salt

1 1/4 teaspoons Yeast

1 3/4 cups Water + More Water

The process is deceptively simple:

  1. You mix all the dry ingredients.
  2. You add 1 3/4 Water and mix, if necessary with your hands.
  3. If need be (and I always do), add more Water to make the bread dough moist. Mix, if necessary with your hands.
  4. Then you put the bread aside. In 15-minutes, you knead the dough again. You do this after 4 15-minute periods. Then wait 1 hour and knead again. Then wait 1 more hour, and knead one last time.
  5. Then turn the oven to 450 degrees.
  6. Grease a pan. I am not sufficiently talented as a cook to put the bread on the wrack without it coming out misshapen (real cooks can). So I simply use a loaf pan.
  7. Smooth the top of the bread with water so it will feel and look nice when you bring it out of the oven.
  8. Once the oven is heated, put the break in the oven for 35 minutes.
  9. Then take out of the oven and let sit for a while.

It is hard work. In fact, it compares being of equal difficulty as Smoked Salmon Soufflés, Eggplant Parmesan Soup, and Matzo Ball Soup. I really believe producing bread is an art form, and I think the guy who wrote the cookbook I use would agree. People only don’t appreciate freshly baked bread because once they are eaten so is the evidence of the chef’s real talent and industry.

With that in mind I will tell you one of my “bread” stories. At my synagogue Dee (a woman who has attended for years) mentioned a woman who used to go before she died who went the through the Holocaust. “She used to make these Challah breads that were like works of Art. I asked her to teach me how to make them, but she didn’t have a system. She would just mix ingredients that ‘felt’ right.” Indeed, that woman must have been a treasure. I am only sorry I never got to meet her. I did however write a story using her as one of the models, “Loaves of Love.” I admit that one of the Jews I sent the story was offended, but I did have a friend at Chabad who asked if it was a real person, and I believe someday I will find somebody who appreciates it… The generation who lived through the Holocaust is dying off, and perhaps though I have only met a few examples of it, my story will in a small way be my effort of lighting a candle on Yom HaShoah. Perhaps some day I will also be able to bake real Challah bread!


Yet Two More School Shootings

First, I want to give my apologies about not writing about these two tragedies earlier. I am not really a journalist, but I feel like as a writer I have a special duty to speak after such tragedies. So here it goes: the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To show our love for the children of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, we must act. For if we do not act, our words are meaningless. No doubt that this has itself been said over and over since Sandy Hook in Connecticut. In my memory there was another such tragedy at Columbine in Colorado, though at that time these incidents were much rarer and I was in High School myself. The point is, we must act.

I myself plan to write both my senator and my house of representative member. They are Republicans, but perhaps there in one or both of them a conscience still waiting to be awakened. Also I will say a few prayers tonight. Sometimes I am forgetful about my prayers, but this time I shall try to say something about the innocent children being murdered while going to school. And I will leave this following scriptural quotation because in a sense it is so relevant to the collection of little corpses at two more schools:


Lonely sits the city

Once great with people!

She that was great among nations

Is become a widow;

The princess among states

Is become a thrall.

Bitterly she weeps in the night,

Her cheek wet with tears.

There is none to comfort her

Of all her friends…

With their own hands, tenderhearted women

Have cooked their children;

Such became their fate,

In the disaster of my poor people…

But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever,

Your throne endures through the ages.

Why have You forgotten us utterly,

Forsaken us for all time?
Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself

And let us come back;

Renew our days of old!

Lamentations 1:1-2; 4:10; 5:19-21

Jews believe that it is possible to live in exile even while living in the Promised Land itself. So it is that perhaps as long as these shootings exist in America, the people live in exile, as described in Lamentations, with the Temple’s destruction being Lamentation’s major theme. We will rebuild our Temple with laws governing how guns can be used and who can use them… but we also need a rebirth of the soul, a recognition of the value of human beings which is the bases both of our various religious traditions and our shared civil religion.


New Publications

I want to apologize to any fans I have because I have not written in so long. The truth is that I have been under the weather, largely due to the fact I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. I won’t go into any details, but being mentally ill can cause a person to neglect the social whirl in which people are expected to take part. However, I have read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and two of three volumes (I am 150 pages into the third) of The Cambridge History of Russia. And there is more.

I have published more of The Bible According to Eve with Urlinkpublishers.com. I already had The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah published. Now, available at Amazon.com, I have:

The Bible According to Eve: The Nevi’im I: The Histories: Eve in Search of Adam;

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im II: The Seers: Eve Supplants Lilith;

and The Bible According to Eve: The Ketuvim: Eve Struggles with God and Man and Prevails.

Each of these books break down a certain portion of the Hebrew Bible, and focusses on the stories of the women in those portions. I really believe in this “Book” and hope that somebody will pay money to read it. I also have a book coming out–it is not religious but political in nature:
Faust in Love

It is about politics and Donald Trump is a major character being debunked in the book. I consider myself rather left of center in religion and politics: not really a fan of AOC but absolutely incensed by the racism promoted by Fox network. Although I voted for Hillary Clinton above Donald Trump, in the primaries I voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary because I felt he had more character–this despite being ambivalent about “Democratic Socialism.” I genuinely like Joe Biden and voted for him, but sometimes the left pushes me farther than I want to go: I don’t understand exactly what the theory of Critical Race Theory says–I mean I don’t understand it, not that I object to it per se–and I guess I didn’t understand how anyone could want to ban Dr. Seuss or other classic kids books from the classroom.

You could argue, “Well, it is not like you are banning War and Peace?” but I believe children who read great books as kids grow up to be great readers as adults. Besides, children ought to have some freedom to choose their own kid’s books, even beyond what their parents think. I hope that doesn’t sound like I am a silly person who doesn’t understand what is going on in our nation or the world.

I am just socially a tad more conservative than the average Democrat is supposed to be–a Conservative Jew who still believes in the goodness of George Washington and the Founding Fathers besides Abraham Lincoln–and sometimes that bothers me. This is despite my firm commitment to the belief in the equality of all human beings–in the form of saying that immigrants coming to America deserve respect, as do our traditional minorities. I believe that was what Thomas Jefferson was trying to say in the Declaration of Independence. I don’t care that he didn’t always live up to it in his private life.

A Story I Always Wanted to Tell

I have never doubted my book The Bible According to Eve can help ordinary people, especially ordinary women. Why? Well, lots of reasons–some of which I mentioned–but I have a story that I want to mention that has always meant so much to me, though I doubt if the woman who told it to me knew it, she would realize that though sometimes I doubted her Conservative Christian views I never doubted her essential goodness or help to me personally. I had a problem once writing a poem in Judges. It was one of the last poems in the book–and I believe it is part of why a critic said I shouldn’t be read by kids because it was rated “R”. The idea is that a man with a concubine had her run away. And he went to her father to get her to return. She did not want to return, her father did not want her to return, and I implied that he was a child molester. However, they went back home… or started to… and on the way they went to an inn… and at that inn… a group of Benjaminite tribesmen came. And… they demanded to be allowed to rape the people inside… and so it was that the virgin daughter of the inn keeper and the concubine got tossed outside and were raped by a mob… in my poem, the men inside heard the butchering of those two girls… and the next morning the man tried to get his concubine to go home… and she was dead… and so it was he asked the other tribes for vengeance and got it. However… the girls… I portrayed their plot and showed it to Anne, “Is this too extreme for the book.”

I deliberately picked the most Conservative Christian at my work place who I worked with… and she said: “No, I do not think it is too extreme. The truth is, I had a daughter who was an engineer… and she worked at a factory where engineers work. Now, engineering is a male dominated profession, and she was the only woman. And her male coworkers had all this pornography around and other things that never made her feel comfortable… and then on a trip once she was with her male boss in the winter travelling. And the truck got stalled. And he raped her. And I asked her, ‘But you are such a big girl. Couldn’t you fight back?’ And she said that all her life she had believed in the goodness of authority in society and now she didn’t know what to believe…” She went on some afterwards about how she was changing–or trying to change her thinking–based on this terrible experience.

I have never doubted afterwards that my story could help an average girl in the face of being raped–or that an average girl could be raped–we should all be ashamed that such serial rapists as ex-President Donald Trump and Judge Kavanagh get to be big in society after what they do to women. I do not appreciate Donald Trump’s racism either, but it is dumbfounding to me that any woman can seriously like the man… any more than any black or Latino male, or disabled person’s relative. No, I have no respect for the man. Yet I have to say that the sad truth is that men with power can do terrible things. And as I think about my friend’s daughter being raped, I have to say: though the Bible did not condone the cruelty of the mob or the equal cruelty of the retaliation, it did prove that it has always existed and needs to be stopped. And that is why the Bible is not a book of pretty stories only but a book that should be seriously considered and questioned and not merely blindly believed… and that is by Christians and Jews, and not just atheists and agnostics. Perhaps the election of Donald Trump represents the blind acceptance of what is worst about our past.

Rediscovering Mr. Lobster

In The Lobster Books, I have entered what amounts of “Volume II: The Curious Lobster’s Island.” I have read up to page 298 of The Lobster Books and the book is just shy of 450 pages. Reading Richard Hatch’s book, I find this profound truth of all of childhood’s best loved books,

Old things and places newly discovered are better discovered than really new ones because there are memories to go with them…

To reread a passage of scripture or a quotation from a classic or even ordinary book loved as a young person gives a special pleasure that the dazzle of novelty cannot rival. That is why reading a passage of Psalms for the fourth or fifth time does not seem tired or dull but warm and alive. When I wrote my best book–or four-book set–The Bible According to Eve, I knew that what made that book profound–if anything did–was that it was my third reading of the Hebrew Bible and–more–I had read it from childhood if you counted a children’s Bible I read in grade school and the fact of hearing Esther and Daniel at that age, too. Language is enriched by scripture, as Lincoln used Biblical cadences “Four score and seven years ago,” in his Gettysburg Address, or–though mentioning two such unrelated men may appear odd–it never occurred to Milton not to use the language of the Homeric epics in his Christian epic about the Fall of Humankind from Paradise, of which the Romantic Robert Burns declared Milton made Satan the accidentally greatest hero in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Yes, it is amazing how many people mistakenly believe it is in the Bible or the Catholic Church fathers that Satan says he would rather be King of Hell than Servant in Heaven.
It is true of books with such eloquent passages as Shakespeare, Dickens or the Brontë sisters. It is also moving in Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn”; Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty”; Shelley’s “Ozymandias”; and of course such succulent poems as Elizabeth Barret’s in “Sonnets of the Portuguese” to her future husband Robert Browning the words,

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,

ending with the promise that love will be greater in death than in life. I have longed–after reading Elizabeth Browning, to read her husband’s The Ring and the Book… but I never seem to find the time… These poets have the special lushness of love… yet perhaps there is a dark side of passion, in Wuthering Heights and even Don Juan (if you ever think about the poor girls Juan seduced and dumped in the poem). The Americans who knew love could have a dark side were Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson, and later F. Scott Fitzgerald in his autobiographical Tender is the Night–which I admit is my favorite of his books. Yet even in these works, eros had its appeal…

Love… the Bible’s Song of Songs is as luscious as any of the poems mentioned here and yet describes the passion of married love, condoned by God but transcending the marriage for social convenience or economic status instead of true love. This is the love that many a misconceived romance novel tries to capture. Yes, the novels parodied by Madam Bovary probably mean well in the heart but miss that timeless quality of the love of the Song of Songs–or even, Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty,” written by a man who desired love but could not love any woman truly. No, he and his friend Shelley were too bent on being a “stud” to embrace any one woman to the exclusion of the others in his head or heart. Yet despite lacking the heart deep enough to love any one woman fully, what Byron and Shelley describe in some of their poems, the sweetest of them… portray something which all people wish for… for is there a person alive who never wanted to be in love?

The point behind all of this is that there is a deeper love than even the romantic, and it is the heartfelt love which comes from God… and it reaches to the reader from the Prophets and the Psalms… and perhaps–if it is not blasphemous to say as a Jew–from the Christian Gospels and Holy Quran. Love… the Greek Agape… the truest feeling of the human being, and yet the one so few of us can live for entirely. No, most of us only capture it at odd moments in prayer or worship… though perhaps in eros people get a hint of its power… I think of Plato, who believed love was the Desire for Immortality… yet I have always believed love is more properly the Desire for God… and Plato believed that the seduction of the beautiful was itself an echo of the love of the good, and that if a person caught the signs, it might take them to the True Good for which all humankind were made. Plato–being pagan–believed human friendship and the immortality in it were what love was… and in that sense The Lobster Books record a worthy story of the Symposium which Plato wrote… even though it is for children… yet ultimately even the love of friends is only a part of the Good… or a part of the Search for God.

Revisiting Mr. Lobster

I began rereading The Lobster Books yesterday, and tonight have gotten to page 92. I try to read 100 pages a day, but oh well… The Lobster Book may be a little too sweet to be the book it was compared to–The Wind and the Willows. I have not read it since childhood, but I decided I had to visit my old friend–all of my books except a few bad ones are my friends, but particularly those by Dickens or that I loved as a child–even though there are probably things I should be doing instead.

When I was a child, I remember my first Riverfest. The River Festival is a celebration of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers that go through Wichita and is held in the spring. Though it is no longer contains the Friends of the Library Booksale–which is still held, but at a different time of the year–on my first year in Wichita it did. Mom and Jim (my stepdad) were newly married and Riverfest turned out to be great fun. My parents told me I could buy one book at the book sale, and if my memory is correct there were thousands of books in Century 2 (where Music Theater and the Symphony were held). Anyway, among those books I found The Lobster Books.

Though most people have never heard of it, The Lobster Books became one of my favorite books as a child (the other being A Little Princess). I read it and met the “wise” Mr. Lobster and his good friends Mr. Badger and Mr. Bear. And now I am meeting them again… so far their friendship has formed and in the next chapter they shall have the picnic that has the astounding result of proving that each one prefers his own food. Yet what I loved about this book still holds true: I still love the “wise” lobster, the rascally Mr. Badger, and the grumpy Mr. Bear. My fondness for the trio has remained firm though I have not seen them since childhood–though in High School I loaned the book to my sister to read to her three kids… whom I believe I sent copies of The Curious Lobster, the same book sold under a different title on Amazon.com.

I plan to order a few copies for the children of friends at my synagogue–one per family and one for a friend who has no children. I guess it is a substitute for having a husband or child of my own… I will pretend that I am going to personally read–after fixing buttered popcorn–The Curious Lobster to the children. In the meantime… perhaps I will write an email to the person who reissued The Curious Lobster and thank them, informing them that it was a childhood favorite and telling them that I am so glad that I can share it with other people… I may even mention my fantasy of retelling that beautiful story so that children who have never heard of it can enjoy a polished version. Actually, I won’t do that last: it would hurt the editor’s feelings. Besides, I don’t know if I would know how to write the “improved” version.

My Father was a Wandering Aramean

When I am called up to read the blessing before the scroll is read, I am always called Hadassah bat Avraham. Hadassah is Esther’s Hebrew name, which I picked for myself as a convert. I picked it because as a child the Book of Esther was my favorite story in the Hebrew Bible. Grandma Alderson read it to me frequently and my stepmother told me that once when I was sick as a child I asked for Esther to be read to me, and said that she was impressed by the questions I asked were precocious. Why Avraham? Well, while a biological Jew has the Hebrew name of their biological father named in connection when they read the blessing, the convert has Avraham, mentioned instead. This is each convert has the patriarch Avraham (Abraham) for their spiritual ancestor… It is not that we lose our biological parents–whom we are told we still are bound to honor in this world and the next–it is only that we are spiritual descendants of Avraham or Abraham, too.

Yet I feel a special kinship with Abraham. What he means to me is not just his being called by God or the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac when he dedicates his son Isaac to God. No, it is also mentioned in that beautiful poem in Deuteronomy (mistaken to be devoid of poetry by so many people):

A wandering Aramean was my father,
and he went down into Egypt,
and sojourned there, few in number;
and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.

I am a wanderer in spirit. Part of this is because as a child I was always moving: we moved twice in Topeka, once when I was four, another time before kindergarten, and then when Mom remarried we moved to Wichita, where I changed school twice before Middle school, thrice in Middle School, and once in High School, though this time it was because I dropped out of the I.B. Program–an Honor’s program. More, to see my father, Mom and Jim would take me on the turnpike twice a month during the school year and two weeks during the summer… and on these visits, I would routinely see Grandma Alderson as well as Dad–because my parents were not on the friendliest terms with him always. Then Dad moved from Topeka to Lawrence when he married his second wife, Renae. Of course, there was also the fact that Grandma Williams lived with my parents for a while before she died, and also lived at Friendly Acres, and then a nursing home before she died… So though I had many people in my life, there was always a sense that I was never in one place for very long, despite never moving outside of Kansas until graduate school. And this much physical wandering made me a spiritual wanderer, too, I believe. Oh, other things helped: my father and stepmother’s fundamentalism and my stepdad’s agnosticism (poor Mom was only Methodist). Yet there was a sense that like Abraham I was always a stranger in a strange land. I never had the same friends for very long, and I was often picked on. College increased this, though I enjoyed the different perspectives I got from this: I took my classes at a Protestant School (Friends University); a Catholic School (Kansas Newman), and the state school (Wichita State). This was before my one year of Grad School in California.

I decided to become Jewish at the Catholic School, but I remember before then I learned about rosary beads and the rituals of the Church… I went to Mass twice, despite not being Christian… and I used to sit in the room where they had statues of Mary from around the world, each made to resemble the people for whom it was made… I found it comforting… but I could not really be Christian. When I converted to Judaism, I found the Jews far different from any people I had ever met… And in that year in California I discovered an alcoholic’s capitol… But a very tolerant place compared to Kansas… Yet at some way I loved “home” more when I came back… Not at first, but eventually… And yet for all that I think it was reading a book, Hillbilly Elegy (I am so sorry the author sold out to Trumpism, but still love the book) that showed me that Kansas people could be as interesting and exciting as, say, the people of foreign countries… I had long since given up the idea of writing about New York…

Despite being Jewish I never could escape the reality that there was faith outside the Bible. I read the Bible (in the King James, JPS and Catholic versions) and New Testament (in the King James and Catholic versions) and Quran (in 3 different versions, the best of which was Tarif Khalid’s) 5 times each… but I also delved into the lore of each faith…  I have read parts of the Talmud, including the whole Mishna, the Book of Legends, and many, many other books.  These include a History of the Talmud, and I have also read Chaim Potok’s novels, Back to the Sources, and The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions–I have a copy and need to read up on the same female rabbis of the Haftorah. I read Luther: Man Between God and the Devil and despite what it said hope someday to read Erik Ericson’s biography of Luther. I also long to read about the Catholic saints but always feel a little nervous looking at the copy I got (at one dollar a book) of Butler’s Book of the Saints. I also do hope to read The Imitation of Christ and Augustine’s Confessions. Despite this I have read The Little Flowers of St. Francis and one modern biography of him… I have read pieces of the Muslim Hadith; Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis; Khalid’s Images of Mohammad and The Muslim Jesus… I plan to read Believing Women in Islam and Quran and Women.

I have read the Buddhist Dhammapada once (I ought to read it again); an abridgment of the Upanishads; I believe the Tao Te Ching; and three abridgements of the Mahabharata (and hope to read the whole thing one day); the Ramayana once; I have also read portions of the (Hindu) Puranas, and (Buddhist) Jataka… 

I am convinced that religious knowledge is at the center of any true religious faith… the person who reads his Bible but never goes any further because though he is able he prefers not to understand, say, the Evolutionary Theory… that is a defect on his faith…  So I hope you do not mind listening to me. I believe the religious person should read Origin of Species (I admit I have only read it once) and try deep philosophy (my favorite two are Spinoza and Whitehead… but even Plato’s “Apology of Socrates” is a great first read, and no mind is truly free until it has scaled Plato’s Republic). However, I admit I have no true gift for science… I only dabble in reading books like Bobcats: Masters of Survival and The Soul of the Octopus.

However, because I embrace Philosophical wisdom and Scientific knowledge, I know it would be folly not to accept the Truth in books like Who Wrote the Bible? Because of that I study both religious and secular commentaries on the books I have named to you… Jewish Lives biographies on Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon and Akiba (as well as more technical books); A.N. Wilson’s biographies Jesus: A Life and Paul: In the Mind of the Apostle (plus two books titled Introduction to the New Testament); Watt’s Mohammad, plus Watt’s biography of Mohammad; Strong’s biography of the Buddha; and–I hope– eventually I shall read The Illustrated Mahabharata: The Definitive Guide to India’s Greatest Epic and The Portable Gandhi.

Yet if one Christian friend said that in his faith he always comes back to Jesus, I always come back to the heroes and heroines of my faith, and not just God. Some other time I will discuss Moses or Miriam, but here I will only say that Abraham, the hero of faith who gave all for his Truth, which was his God, is so much a part of me that I could not be anything but a Jew… though I know that my spiritual fellows in his faith include Christians and Muslims, and that each human being is an heir to the greater family of humanity–because in the Talmud it assures us that each human being is descended of Adam and Eve and Noah and his family. The Righteous of the Nations shall be saved. And yet we Jews are heirs to a great faith and a great Truth… one I love but am somehow never satisfied with… I also wander like Abraham in the wilderness, with that one word haunting me, home.

This Poor Man Cries to God

Lately I have thought of my childhood favorite authors: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Why? Because though I thought I had worked my way out of it, I believe that I have had a relapse of spirit in a way… when I was a child I feared that I bore the taint of sin… and I always believed that even the best of people were tainted with the faint taint of sin, and even the worst usually had one closet virtue that the world never saw. This is not to say that we should worship Al Capone or loathe Mother Teresa. No, I thought, it was that we should not assume that our motives were always pure when we “walked through the shadow of Death.” Perhaps Shakespeare put it almost as well as Hawthorne could in two lines of Julius Cesar,

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones…

I remember in High School I learned the fact that I thought catastrophic, until I realized the sad fact that no man, however great, is totally without flaw. This fact was that Charles Dickens had a mistress. It is odd that it affected me much when you think of my parents’ divorces (Dad would eventually be divorced three times), sister’s, and also that of a couple of aunts. Why would an unhappy marriage ending in separation, even if motivated in part by finding a young woman more attractive than your spouse, be the biggest sin after seeing messy divorce after messy divorce? Or perhaps I hadn’t seen Dad’s 2nd Divorce hadn’t happened yet–and I hadn’t fully registered things to come (though she was already divorced) with my sister. It is odd… my dad converted to fundamentalist Christianity on Mom’s leaving him, and despite Renee eventually leaving him, for the duration of their marriage they both claimed adultery and even divorce to be absolutely reprehensible.

Anyway: Dickens. I was so in love with his book that I could not–at first–accept that he was anything less than a perfect saint. I saw myself in Little Dorrit. Aurthur Clements’ mother reminded me of my Grandma Alderson’s–and realistically, my father’s and stepmother’s–truly deplorable religious views. Yet there was something oddly familiar that I didn’t recognize till years later: William Dorrit, Little Dorrit’s father, reminded me of Dad. I actually liked this character–at first–as he went into the debtor’s prison. Yet I would discover something later: my dad was a chronic debtor, and though I shouldn’t admit it went bankrupt while married to his second wife only to die–a thrice divorced man– at least $30,000 in debt. The money has never been paid. I guess it no longer matters if anybody knows… Gayle and I cannot, thankfully, inherit the debts he incurred. The point is Little Dorrit was my story, somehow. And I could not accept the writer of my story as anything other than somehow being a perfect saint–I hope that is a forgivable sin in an adolescent, because it is my only excuse that I was young.

Well, if Dickens was the man who promised that no tearjerker (except The Old Curiosity Shoppe) failed to have a happy ending, Nathaniel Hawthorne appealed to a brooding, Christian side that doubted itself intensely. And perhaps for all the tragic dimension to Hawthorne’s stories, he pointed to a problem that often puzzled me often as a child… Could it be that even very good people have flaws which are the result of something like original sin? I no longer believe in people deserving to go to hell just for being human–I believe in Gehenna, but I believe that even sometimes people who are not good go to Heaven outright or are given a second chance. Yet perhaps there is a sense in which even the best of humans never grasp divinity until the afterlife when they leave the flesh behind and receive their reward… And at that time, so burdensome was the weight of my belief in sin that I did not believe I could be good…

When I lost faith in Christianity I was devastated… yet over one terrible semester in college, I came to believe in a form of Deism which only sort of allowed for the Imperfectability of Humankind… And by the time I graduated I’d worked my grades up till I could go to Grad School–where I was only one year. However, the Journey taught me something: a teacher told me, “Studying is a Process” (you get good at it over time) and I realized “Goodness is a Process, too,” (we learn to be good people step by step, and nobody is ever static, we are continually getting better or worse, depending on our good and bad deeds). Anyway… what really made me shine–in my head–was working at Breakthrough and Pro Kansas Recycling. More than that, I finally got to fill my life’s dream: I got to become a professional author, one who has books on sale at Amazon.com and which are being represented by agents.

Yet for reasons I can’t reveal–they are too painful to me–recently I have found myself mulling over the possibility that no human being can really achieve purity until the afterlife… well, maybe a few (Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa) come close, but for most of us we just aren’t ready until we go through the final test of death to be received by the joyful embrace of our Creator as his beloved children. I know God will forgive me no matter what… but I feel very bad at the moment… and I do not know if it is my fault or not. I know I shouldn’t reveal this mush on the Internet where just anyone can read it… yet there is torment in my soul… Though it is written for a man and not a woman as the speaker, I shall quote the Book of Psalms:

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard,
And saved him out of all his troubles…
O consider and see that the LORD is good;
Happy is the man that taketh refuge in Him.
O fear the LORD, ye His holy ones;
For there is no want to them that fear Him.
The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger;
But they that seek the LORD want not any good thing.
Come, ye children, hearken unto me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man that desireth life, and loveth days,
That he may see good therein?

Forgive me for recording today’s melancholy… especially since I have never lived a poverty-stricken life… Yet allow that Hawthorne’s tragic vision haunts me: that even the good are not wholly good, nor the bad wholly bad.

The Importance of Being a Gentleman

In Great Expectations–in which Bertrand Russell said Dickens officially apologies those he felt he had “sold out” in his rise to fame and success–Dickens tries not only to relive his own life’s follies pitfalls, but also explore what it means to be a good person. Joe Gargery is both the man who comes to personify virtue in poverty, in Dickens words “a Gentle Christian Man,” and is also a foil to Pip, who in all ways except one is a sell out. When Pip first receives a fortune from an unknown source, he is corrupted by money so that when he sees Joe for the first time in a long time, he barely knows what to say to his uncle. It is as though they are strangers. Both of them feel the distance. Yet Pip does–after losing his fortune the first time–discover it in his heart to be the good friend he ought to be towards Joe. He gives up the girl (Biddy) who is his new found love because she is engaged to Joe.

Joe’s nobility is as refined through his suffering as his manners are not. Apart from being poor and working as a blacksmith, Mrs. Joe–his first wife and Pip’s sister–beats both Joe and Pip. Yet Joe is abhorrent of the practice of what we would call spouse abuse today, especially when it is directed towards a woman. He cannot believe any woman deserves to be beaten, no matter how abusive she is first. More, he is a forgiving man, who loves Pip and never gives up on him in reality.

I feel like we can learn from Joe and Pip’s story today. Very few of the people reading this Blog are probably suffering from poverty. Yet if we ask ourselves, isn’t it possible that we had ancestors who did? I know that although not as poverty stricken as Grandma Alderson’s parents were, my Grandma Alderson made extra money from babysitting while my Grandpa only had an 8th Grade education and worked as a conductor on a train during the Great Depression (Grandma Alderson had a high school diploma). By contrast, Grandpa and Grandma Williams were poor farmers, though Grandma had a college degree and before their marriage worked as a Social Worker in the Dust Bowl. That said… Grandma Williams family came to America from Sweden… and as such were immigrants. It is a miracle that with the help of her uncles and grandparents, her parents managed to send Grandma Williams to school. Yet Grandpa still words like “ain’t.” His education was not that great. I know people might not find my personal history interesting. Yet I want to ask: if I maintain a prejudice against immigrants, am I not hurting my own Grandma Williams in a sense? Is it not the truth that just because somebody is from Mexico and not Sweden I would not allow them to come to this country, I am not doing my Grandma’s legacy a deep injury?

That is why we ought to open our hearts to others in the way that Dickens said the true “Gentle Christian man” in Joe did. True, I am Jewish and not Christian. Yet if you think of it, Dickens was a Unitarian because he disbelieved in miracles and the Trinity. Though he apparently believed in Jesus’ teachings (he wrote a book Life of Our Lord for his children), what he believed at heart was in love. We should see nobility in the people who may be like our very own ancestors. We should be wary of becoming the ungrateful Pip to today’s Joe. That is what Charles Dickens believed being a true “gentleman” or true “lady” is.

My Childhood’s Bold Discovery

Though I loved books as a kid, it was only late in grade school that I spent a roughly equal time of my day reading as playing with my “My-Little-Ponies” on the floor. However, one year Mom, my stepdad, and I went to our first Riverfest. Riverfest was a celebration of the River that goes through Wichita and the spring when it is celebrated… Anyway, I remember my favorite part was the bookfair… Of course, since that first Riverfest, the bookfair has been kept at a different part of the year… Yet I remember being told that I could have only one book… And I found The Lobster Books. It was copyrighted in the 1920’s, and recently it was republished as “an American The Wind in the Willows.” I have read both books… and thought The Curious Lobster (the title under which modern The Lobster Books was published) to be a book which I loved equally as a child… despite the fact that I did not think it attempted to go as deep with, say, the god Pan playing his paean to Nature.

Anyway, I have often fantasized about rewriting The Curious Lobster so that other children would appreciate it as much as I did. This is not because I fail to love the book as it is currently written. It is for the same reason that William Goldman rewrote The Princess Bride and Julius Lester rewrote Tales of Uncle Remus without the frame stories. Actually, it might be for a slightly different reason: I only think my book needs polishing, whereas Goldman found part of his classic book dull and people have questioned whether the frame story added rather than detracted from the stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear, among others. Both claimed as boys to try to read the original of their favorite book only to meet the terrible truth that it could not be read by a child without being seriously revised. By contrast, The Curious Lobster was readable enough but was a “forgotten” hit.

When I read it, it began with the character of the lobster, and how his cleverness led to his living to 70 years of age. Then, it goes on to how he met Mr. Badger–who was fishing–and how Mr. Badger was in trouble with Mr. Bear whom he had stolen from. Mr. Lobster is almost cooked to death by Mr. Bear when he tries to help Mr. Badger by talking to Mr. Bear, and then finally Mr. Bear is reconciled to Mr. Badger and Mr. Lobster, and the three become good friends. This story was my very favorite story book as a child besides A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I shall finally reread it this weekend… or a little while after it, too… after I finish Akbar: The Great Mughal (474 pages) which a friend of mine are reading in concert so we can discuss it afterwards.

To Err is Human, to Really Make a Mistake, You Need a Computer

[Our Civilization] has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life; replaced its contentment, its poetry, its soft romance-dreams and visions with the money-fever, sordid ideals, vulgar ambitions, and the sleep which does not refresh; it has invented a thousand useless luxuries, and turned them into necessities; it has created a thousand vicious appetites and satisfies none of them; it has dethroned God and set up a shekel in His place.– Mark Twain

I don’t always share Twain’s sentiment, but watching a News segment on A.I. it struck home to me about an invention that should never be created: a mind reading machine. The root of what I hated about the idea is that I never want to be in a position where a person can glean from my mind the thoughts which I would rather keep to myself. More, I think even criminals should have this right. I don’t want mind-reading to be used on average felons in place of the usual techniques of proving or disproving guilt. I think of it as a kind of “cruel and unusual punishment” for those who have done wrong (or not) by society. And of course it would be (in the court system’s hands) ideal for digging into the dirt of a person’s private life in ways in which the government has no right to know about us individually: does every man ever tried for manslaughter deserve for the knowledge to be known that though he did not commit he did commit adultery or did do some other non-criminal wrong?

The reason for this crap to be invented is supposed to be that in the medical profession it will do some perceived good. Yet I don’t want a machine to make doctor’s decisions. First of all, we don’t know that the machine is more reliable than the human doctor. Don’t machines (including computers) short circuit? Don’t machines break down? Aren’t there times when the electricity goes off? And of course even if the computer does work “better” in some way, can any machine have either a human conscience or compassion? I want my doctor to feel something about me, not just prescribe the right pills or–presumably–cut me open on the table. I literally changed human doctors once because I felt the first did not have as much compassion for me as the second when I was sick. As much as I love the ludicrous fun of watching Doc Martin about the belligerent doctor who somehow always saves the patient, perhaps the comedy and tragedy of that show is that he is not what a real doctor is supposed to be, and in real life people might periodically drive out of the town of Portwenn just to get a different doctor to look at them.

What makes it worse is that another A.I. specialist even though they insisted that A.I. was nowhere near the place where we could all live like dogs and cats with doors that automatically open and close for us and we would have minimal work or play to live (and thank God that is probably true), she had to add, “Though it would probably be fun to me to live that way.” No, it would not be “fun” to live that way. I remember reading an article years ago that said for a normal, healthy adult it is not conducive to human happiness to not do any work to do. Without having the study or the proof to show that it is so, I do not doubt it. If humans ought to exercise physically (and I admit I should do more of it), they also need to exercise mentally and interact with other real people. All of what I am saying is a big “duh” as far as I am concerned, but yes, psychiatrists have tried and probably succeeded in proving as much.

If the person does not believe me, I dare you to do an experiment. Unplug your TV and computer for a week–I admit, even I am an addict–and then spend a month doing two things outside of your normal work week: read the entire Little House on the Prairie and write down a diary of all the machines in the house, telling in the entries what you would do if that machine didn’t exist. Even get the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook for the experiment if you have to. If you are particularly bold, I have a book I occasionally–not often enough–use to make a “French Loaf” of bread: Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes, by Martin Philip. During this week, fix your own food and do not eat out. Of course, you will need the grocery store, I admit that. Yet I want you to come up at the end of that time with an essay, “Things I could do myself which I did not realize involved using the microwave or the dishwasher.” And I dare you to do your duty by Laura, who you will notice can even churn butter by herself: cut down on the number of appliances in your house, so that more of the work in your home without any outside assistance.

My Kaleidoscope and Me

I wrote a few days ago about my inner Kaleidoscope and me. What I long to say to somebody–and so I will bare my soul to the world–is that the ugly truth is that a person with Bipolar–and I am one–is only partly affected by forces outside the self. No, the life of the Bipolar patient is one of intense ups and downs (moods). Because of this, what I hear when people speak to me is only half them. The other half is my euphoria or despair informing the fact as it comes into me. This may help me be creative… yet it has a destructive effect on relationships. People don’t always understand why I am reserved one moment and exhibitionist the next… and that affects a great loneliness… Or as the Bible says:

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity;
but a broken spirit who can bear?

So it is that I always wonder about something: I do take lots of pills. Yet sometimes I still get depressed or (in the car with my friend Cynthia) raucous. In that car I get to unwind and live exuberantly… yet sometimes at night I am the same way, and nobody except invisible voices are there… when I can’t sleep… That raucousness has joy in it… I hope Cynthia understands that it is as close to happy as I ever get… that and in my synagogue praying… Yes in my prayers I feel the consoling arms of God…

Yet I did not always find consolation in my prayers… Grandma Alderson told me as a child that a Jewish anti-Christ was coming; and that a Catholic Pope and False Prophet was helping him; and the few “saints” (who must be dreary folk indeed), would escape in the Rapture whereas all the worlds peoples except them (other Christians including most Catholics; Jews; Muslims; Hindus; and Buddhists et al) would be cast into a great lake of fire where they would roast for all eternity… I was ten years old at the time.

I was terrified at the time–last night I figured out that was what my root feeling was 10 to 13 years of age. I thought I hated God, other people, my parents–but really it was not hate but fear. I feared the God I once had loved. At 13 in a hospital I realized that I did not disbelieve in God but was only angry at Him. Now I know it was not true I hated God but only that I was afraid of Him. And I tried to embrace Him, somehow… I was suicidal but in my heart I wanted to love again. Yet I couldn’t work it out, somehow. I tried different things in High School–reading C.S. Lewis’ Defense of Christianity and half of Augustine’s City of God. I read Dostoyevsky late in High School and imagined that he was a much better Christian than he actually was… I want to make it clear that love and fear battled within me and so too the feeling of injustice… and I lost faith in Christianity anew when I was 19 after my Freshman year in college.

Despite the gloominess of my faith, I felt lost, empty, alone, isolated when I lost faith… Until I discovered a book by Spinoza, his Ethics. I admired his belief in God as a pantheistic God, and I found his beliefs about morality comforting. I did however, revise them in my head into a kind of consequentialism. I believed that actions had consequences and the key to virtue was to view the world in terms of the consequences of your actions. I believed him that hard work and honesty were valuable to gaining employment (though he didn’t say that outright); that the social virtues were necessary to have true friendships; and that the love of God alone transcended crude self-interest. However, I found his pantheism troubling in one way: Spinoza believes in a God that does not love a person back. More, I also wanted to believe there was a love of one person for another that transcended self-interest. To quote Jesus in the New Testament, “There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for a friend.” Therefore at least at the time I believed not in pantheism but in a form of Deism. This was before I came to Judaism… For a while I wanted to become a Unitarian, but to this day I have never stepped into one of their churches… Yet as a Jew I have struggled with part of Spinoza I initially dismissed… perhaps in fact the truth of God’s reality is that God is a Panentheistic God. God is both Creator and Created. He is Conscious of each of us, and there is a form of the Afterlife in that the Soul of the Good rejoins Him in Death–and enjoys bliss in the arms of the Creator.

There is an apropos Midrash in Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls: that each Soul before it goes down to earth is held and petted in the loving arms of its Creator, who is a kind of gentle Zaydie to each one before the soul is sent to live in the physical realm. We only do not know because he bottle feeds us the milk of forgetfulness before sending us to earth… This gentle Zaydie is a part of how I imagine God… I believe this God only regretfully punishes the souls of the wicked in the afterlife (“I take no joy in the punishment of the wicked”), and justifies many who only marginally deserve forgiveness (“I will gather still others besides those I have already gathered”).

Anyway… I was talking to a professor, Ms. Golden, about my views–at that time I had determined I wanted to study Spinoza, Hegel, and Whitehead. I mistakenly called Judaism “an ethnic religion.” Ms. Golden said, “That is not true. That is simply a racist myth Hitler dreamed up. Judaism doesn’t seek out converts but does take them when they come. It is a Universal Faith.”

Hearing these words a spark was lit: I could really become a Jew! Though I had never thought I would be one, it was as though my life had been building towards that moment. So I spoke to another professor… I went to the Reform synagogue but then switched to one that was Orthodox/Conservative (because I wanted to keep the Kosher laws) and the rest, religiously, is History.

My family, except my mother, did not really accept or come to accept this very well: Grandma Alderson (who I never should have told) and Dad died believing I was going to hell for it. And, it did turn out I had Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder–but my Orthodox rabbi and later rabbis were kind and supportive. I really had only one doubt, leftover from my Christian faith: I wanted to believe in a God who was an Unrequited Giver and who wished humankind to be made of unrequited givers. I wanted to believe that a person could give to a person who could not give back and that was the Holiest kind of Love… what Christians call “Grace” I believe… but after all, the Bible has God say, “I will be Gracious unto whom I will be Gracious,” so perhaps the cause of Grace is good in Judaism, too… and I still believe in it, and have done a few good deeds knowing that the person could not pay me back. And that is all I really want from my faith: Love.


Somehow this evening I was thinking of Brazil–one of my first books–and the spin-offs I hope to write. Of course, I am not altogether sure why: the book has so few fans among my friends. Yet I am in love with the book and its characters, that I must–at some point–write more. The first book shall be God’s Laughter Reverberates on Sugar Loaf Mountain. It is the biography of Father Joao, the priest who marries Other and Noemia in Brazil. He is an orphanage keeper who runs a school for poor children in his adopted homeland… the book begins with the story of his free-thinking youth, the death of his younger brother, his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and then his vision of taking care of Brazilian orphans and finally his experiences with COVID-19. I will work out the book when I write it. The second book will be Wild Rose, about Other’s adopted orphan Isaias, his struggles as a Afro Brazilian orphan embracing his father’s Jewish Orthodoxy, and his budding as an Artist.

However, the thing I wanted to write the most about are two novellas I hope to house in a single book: one about Carlos (a lunatic that Rabbi Abrams looks on occasionally) and one about Talita (one of Noemia’s two best friends).  I will skip Talita for now. Carlos will go to Portugal so he can be treated by a “Western” doctor who speaks his native tongue…

And now I think I will get to how come a minor character in Brazil, and a character I hope to explore in a novella someday is so important to me. Carlos is an especially difficult character for me to portray and understand… Carlos believes he can see demons… he believes if he curses people they will honestly suffer the effects… and these things frighten him… though he cannot put it that way—his illness is too advanced—he cannot escape his own mind… it is like a cage. Because he can’t get out. And I sympathize with him because I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder myself and I once imagined demons and ghosts and other strange things… it was when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder… re-diagnosed because at one time I was diagnosed Major Depression. Isn’t it odd that the person in a book hardest to portray is the character most like you?